KNOW WHO YOU ARE VACATIONING WITH before you commit to it; that is my advice. I have gotten quite particular with who I want to be with on a trip. Some years ago, I took a trip with a friend that turned into a disaster. Because I am more of a visual person, I favor experiencing things that need little written explanation. I usually will research a place before I agree to visit it; so, most of my reading and learning is done before I get to my destination. In other words, I am a planner. He, it turned out, was exactly opposite. Where I would just stand and admire a structure or building, he wanted to know what type of materials were used and why the creator chose them. We did not make it to lunchtime before I had to tell him we would need to figure out the different sights we want to see and maybe go to some of them alone. Just to give you an example of what I experienced; we were marveling a recently completed building that had won several distinctions. I was standing there just taking in the look of the building when my friend peppered me with questions like, “Where do you suppose the brick came from?”, “Why did the artist choose that color?” and “How will they keep the glass clean?” Notice all the questions were asking about things I or any other tourist would not know. I HAVE BEEN ASKED TO JOIN a group for vacation and though I enjoy their company, I have had to decline because they are what I refer to as “beach people.” Traveling to a location just to spend much of the day relaxing at the beach would be torture for me. I am not the type to sit by a swimming pool or lay out at the beach to sun myself. My friends refer to me as a vampire because rarely have they seen me with a tan. When I take a trip, I feel like I am an explorer on a mission to discover new land. I never know if I will ever be able to see a new place more than once; so, I want to take in as much as possible each day I am there. It is not unusual for me to be out of the hotel by 9-10:00 am and not return to the hotel way past dinner time. This would be a successful vacation for me. I do not think I have to tell you that I would fail miserably if I were in the shoes of the couple in this adventure comedy, who encountered a partying couple who were already guests of their hotel. THE PURPOSE OF THEIR TRIP TO Mexico was for them to relax. That hope was quickly thrown out the window once Marcus and Emily, played by Lil Rel Howery (Bad Trip, Get Out) and Yvonne Orji (Night School, Insecure-TV), arrived at their hotel. With John Cena (The Suicide Squad, Playing with Fire) as Ron, Meredith Hagner (Palm Springs, Royal Pains-TV) as Kyla and Robert Wisdom (Beast of Burden, The Loft) as Harold; this movie had its moments. The cast was good, though I felt John and Lil Rel were repeating previous roles. The script started out fun but got repetitive after a while with the same type of scenarios taking place. There were a few times I chuckled because of the outrageousness of the scene and I especially enjoyed the way Meredith delivered her lines. Despite the negatives about the script, I did enjoy what I took as the underlying message the writers were trying to convey. There may not be much surprise found in this picture; but if you enjoy humor based on the differences between people, then you may be okay with watching this film.
2 ¼ stars
MOTHERHOOD AND FATHERHOOD COME WITH EQUAL responsibilities, at least that is how I feel about it. The way I see it, both are equal partners in the raising of their children. Now some of you already know I feel adults should be required to get a license to have a child; it is much harder to raise a child than to drive a car which requires a license. I have seen good and bad examples of parenting. Actually, it would be more like outstanding and horrific examples. One person I know has done a beautiful job in raising their child. The way they explained things to their child provided them with ample information to let the child express their feelings in a healthy way. Let me also add the child’s vocabulary increased greatly to the point their reading level reached far beyond their grade level. Another parent I know has taken their life experiences and used them as examples of what not to do to their child. I could appreciate their method because a good part of their upbringing involved guilt and manipulation. They vowed they would never treat their child the way they were growing up. There are several parents I know who are not trying to be their child’s best friend; they are just being the parents. SADLY, ON THE FLIP SIDE, I have seen too many examples of parenting from poor to horrible. A father who wanted to get revenge on his child’s mother decided to call family services and tell them his daughter is being abused by the mother’s new boyfriend. What transpired next is too much to talk about just in the space of this review; let me just say there were no winners in this struggle. Another parent I know did not recognize the emotional eating their child was doing to themselves. Not that I expect every adult to recognize emotional eating; but don’t you think anything done to an extreme would be a red flag? I also have a hard time with parents who instill their prejudices into their children. Back in elementary school, there was a boy in my class who was anti-Semitic. He not only would verbally abuse students in the class, he would pick on them either by throwing something like paper clips and rubber bands or he would sock them as he passed them in the hallway. I happened to see him at a store with his father, who displayed the same behavior. As I said before, I have seen a wide variety of parenting techniques which is why I could appreciate what the father was going through in this comedic drama. WITH THE SUDDEN DEATH OF HIS wife after giving birth to their child, a father must figure out what would be the best option for raising his child. With Kevin Hart (The Upside, Jumanji franchise) as Matt Logelin, Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Burning Sands) as Marion, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Bad Trip) as Jordan, DeWanda Wise (The Weekend, She’s Gotta have It-TV) as Swan and Melody Hurd (Trick, Them-TV) as Maddy Logelin; this was a surprisingly different role for Kevin to take on and I liked him in it. Not the usual loud, fast talking character in the movie, he showed more dimension than I have seen before. The story is pretty much predictable and could have used more in-depth scenes and character development. With that being said, the script was created with the viewer in mind because it was obvious the writers wanted to pull on the viewers’ heartstrings. This picture may not have been high art, but I did appreciate the way they depicted the trials and tribulations of a single parent. Overall, I did not mind this film at all. Hopefully, Kevin will take on more similar roles that test his acting abilities.
2 ½ stars
WE BECAME FRIENDS IN COLLEGE; HE lived across the hall from me. Both of us disliked the school’s meal plan; so, we had opted out and went grocery shopping every week instead. There was a communal kitchen on our floor and each room was assigned one cabinet. I mostly had cereal boxes, canned goods and peanut butter in mine. But, in one of the 3 refrigerators I usually had a dozen frozen pizzas. During summer semester, I came back home and got a summer job; he remained at school to take extra classes. When we graduated, he already had a job lined up in my hometown. I planned on working at the same company I had been during the summer months, while continuing with my education. I had become friends with some of the employees at the company and we would get together sometimes on the weekends. On one of those occasions my friend joined us. During the whole night out, I had no inkling of my friend’s interest in one of the employees. It was not until we were driving home together when he told me about his attraction to this one employee and wanted me to fix him up. I remember asking him why he didn’t just go up to her and start talking. He told me he was too shy and couldn’t do it. For the next couple of months, it became my responsibility to plan activities/events that included him and her. BETWEEN MY SCHOOLING, WORK AND SOCIAL director position; I did not know if I was coming or going. My friend was constantly asking me what I was planning next, wanting to make sure he was ready and comfortable to participate. In other words, I could not plan something I wanted to do; it had to be something he approved of first. You might be asking me why I put up with this and to tell you the truth I do not know why. I think a part of me wanted to be a matchmaker so I could always be part of their life story if they became a couple. And if nothing else, I enjoyed being in charge of planning things. Some of the things I planned were bowling, attending comedy clubs, roller skating and going to the movies. Despite all these activities, it took my friend a few months before he built up the courage to ask my fellow employee out on a date. He was so excited when she said yes; the very next day he ran out to buy a new shirt for the date. Sadly, it would be the only time he wore that shirt because when he asked her out again at the end of their evening together, she thanked him and said she would prefer staying just friends. It was tough for him to be vulnerable, just as it was for the main character in this comedy. A CHANCE MEETING OF HIS HIGH school crush sends Chris Carey, played by Eric Andre (Man Seeking Woman-TV, 2 Broke Girls-TV), on a cross country trip to see her again and tell her how he feels. Taking a road trip with one’s head in the clouds may not make for the easiest of trips. With Michaela Conlin (The Lincoln Lawyer, Bones-TV) as Maria Li, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Bird Box) as Bud Malone, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Like a Boss) as Trina Malone and Charles Green (Richard Jewell, Freaky) as the Priest; this movie had some crazy funny parts if you can get past the crudeness and vulgarity. The script was part love story and part Candid Camera show which was clever. The pranking of innocent bystanders was outrageous at times, to the point I wasn’t sure if they were not in on the joke. I kept wondering how no one recognized the actors. Because of this and some of the choppiness I felt between scenes, it took me some time to get comfortable with what was taking place. If one is not a fan of reality prank shows, then this film would not work for you. If you can deal with the foul language and rawness, then you can find some humorous gems within the story.
2 ½ stars
MISERY LOVES COMPANY EVEN WHEN ONE does not know they are miserable. There was a small group of us friends who got together often to go restaurant hopping. Yes, you heard correctly; we would go from one restaurant to another to another. Some people go bar hopping; but for me, alcohol was never my thing. I would rather chow down on food and snacks. The group of us would start the night at one restaurant, where we would have our main meal. After sitting and talking over tea/coffee after the meal, we would leave and go to a restaurant that made great French fries. I would have a whole plate of them with a soft drink. From there, we would drive around for a while deciding where we wanted to go next. One of my friends was fond of this pancake house, so we would usually wind up there to split a couple of orders of pancakes. I have to say they were always good. To end the evening, we would go to one of my favorite places; it was an old diner where they made these dynamite milkshakes. There was nothing better than ending a night out with friends by having one of these milkshakes. My choice was always the chocolate one. IT FINALLY TOOK AN EXPANDING WAISTLINE to make me confront the reality of what I was doing to myself. I had been stuffing my feelings of self-worth by stuffing my face. I hated myself and realized I was the only one who could change it. I still went out with my friends; but instead of digging into the food at every location, I would just order another cup of tea or something small that would have fewer damaging effects on my body. Exercise became a focus for me, so I started introducing cardio into my daily routines. My friends noticed my physical appearance was slowly changing. They were supportive for the most part; however, I could sense something was going on when I would join them on a restaurant run. I could go into my theories about it; but instead, let me just say I got a sense they were feeling uncomfortable having me sitting with them with my cup of tea, while they were devouring large quantities of food. I understood it because I would probably feel the same way. Eventually, I attended our restaurant runs less and less. Some friends would stay in contact with me, others not so much. I just knew I had to make a change in my life; the same way the main character, in this film festival winner, had to do in her life. AS HER FRIENDS’ LIVES CONTINUED TO grow Brittany, played by Jillian Bell (Rough Night, Office Christmas Party), knew she would have to make a change. However, going to a doctor to score some prescription drugs may not have been the best choice when the doctor refused, telling her she was overweight. With Michaela Watkins (The Back-Up Plan, In a World…) as Catherine, Alice Lee (Wish Upon, Sierra Burgess is a Loser) as Gretchen, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Tag) as Demetrius and Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect, Barbershop: The Next Cut) as Jern; this comedic drama was made better by Jillian Bell. She was wonderful in her role, authentically coming across as real and vulnerable. There have been similar stories done before; however, I found this script had more of a raw element to it which only drew me more into the story. Of course, with being able to relate to some of Jillian’s issues, I felt a solid connection to this picture. My guess would be more viewers than not would find something to relate to in this movie. By picking this film to go see, you would be making a healthier choice.
3 ¼ stars
WE WERE LINED UP IN a single row, one behind the other. The gym teacher handed the basketball to the first boy, telling him to take a shot at the hoop. I looked up at the basketball hoop, with its netting that looked like something a fisherman had dragged through the ocean; it was ragged and gray as it lifelessly hung down. The first boy missed the hoop so he had to hand over the basketball to the next student standing in line. The 2nd boy made a basket which meant he got to take another turn. It was a simple game; for every basket a student made they could take another turn, otherwise hand off the ball to the next boy in line. My only experience playing with a basketball before was with my friends for a game called Horse. I had no desire to get involved with any type of competition that involved a ball at school; because, I had seen just how competitive and mean students were when they competed with each other. The student who was not as skilled as his teammates would be ridiculed and abused outside of the eyes and ears of the gym teacher. LIVING IN A CITY THAT HAD a famous, winning basketball team you would think I would have gotten into the sport; you would be incorrect. I enjoyed watching the game but have never gone out of my way to devote time to sitting and watching it on TV. The players’ athletic abilities astound me, as well as their showmanship; that was about it for me. I may have mentioned this before but I have a hard time accepting the fact that athletes get paid millions of dollars for playing with a ball, while school teachers barely get by on their salaries and they are molding the minds of children. Now I am aware how team sports activities lend themselves to the bonds players form with each other. In high school the guys on the football or baseball team were inseparable; that was not necessarily the case for those on the debate or chess teams. It was rare to see a single football player walking down the school’s hallway without a buddy alongside of him. I am not judging this by the way; I think it is great when a student feels like they belong to something because I am aware of those who did not feel like they belonged. Let me tell you it is a whole different experience for the outsider. The proof can be found in this sport comedy film. DRIVEN BY THE NEED TO SUCCEED due to a childhood basketball game incident Dax, played by Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) is determined to win the neighborhood basketball tournament. However when Mookie, played by Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners, My Blind Brother), steals Dax’ star basketball player; Dax is forced to seek out the basketball legend Uncle Drew, played by Kyrie Irving. Upon meeting him Dax has no idea how an old, white haired man could possibly play the game. With Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Meet the Spartans) as Jess, Erica Ash (Scary Movie 5, Survivor’s Remorse-TV) as Maya and Shaquille O’Neal (Steel, Kazaam) as Big Fella; it has been established I am not a big fan of basketball. The script started out slow for me, along with its easy predictability. What kept my interest through this picture, believe it or not, was the basketball playing. I was amazed by the “senior” basketball players’ skills; they were fun to watch. The jokes and humor were nothing special; but for this light fare it was fine. And because of the basketball playing on display in this film I have a new appreciation for the game of basketball.
2 ½ stars
ALL THAT WAS NEEDED WAS A bed sheet and 2 chairs. With these items one could create a fort and that is exactly what we would do. Whenever I would get together with a cousin of mine and we wanted to pretend to be in the military, we would start our fort with the 2 chairs separated but facing each other. Draping the sheet over them we now would have a secret tunnel we had to crawl through underneath the chair seat, right between its legs. Once safely under the cover of the sheet we would go over our just thought out battle plans. There were times where we needed a bigger fort so I would take out the extra folding chairs from the hall closet while he went in search for more sheets and blankets. From our strategically placed covered chairs, we created an intricate compound of tunnels and meeting rooms. If there were enough items we would even incorporate the living room’s coffee tables to expand our structure. We could play for hours besides requesting our meals be delivered to our pretend mess hall in the middle of our fort. FROM THAT EARLY TIME, I fell in love with a variety of real and make-believe games. One of my oldest memories is being taught to play the card game, War. Add in Crazy 8’s, Gin Rummy and Concentration; I was always asking friends and family if they wanted to play with me. Store bought games also became important to me. You might not believe it but I still have some of them to this day and they remain in good condition. There is nothing like sitting down with a friend and taking out the game pieces of a board game in anticipation of a rousing good time. Interestingly I am not competitive against anyone, only myself. So, I never cared if I won or not; I simply enjoyed playing the game. The only time where I do not have fun playing is when there is a group of people and one of them is super competitive; I mean yelling and making rude comments to the other players or even the ones on their own team. I avoid this type of situation, preferring to sit it out and just observe. As for those games that list the ideal age range one should be to play it, do not believe it. There should never me an age restriction on being able to have fun; just watch the childhood friends in this comedy inspired by a true story. FOR THE PAST DECADES CHILDHOOD friends put one month aside a year to continue their game of Tag. Neither wedding or funeral were off limits in getting tagged “you’re it.” With Ed Helms (Chappaquiddick, Vacation) as Hogan “Hoagie” Malloy, Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) as Reggie, Jon Hamm (Beirut, Baby Driver) as Bob Callahan, Jake Johnson (Let’s Be Cops, New Girl-TV) as Randy “Chilli” Cilliano and Jeremy Renner (Wind River, The Bourne Legacy) as Jerry Pierce; the story for this film was wild. The fact these friends have been doing this same game of Tag for all these years is a bit mind blowing. I thought the cast did as best as they could with the script, but I need to tell you I became bored by the repetitive schemes to tag Jeremy’s character. A couple of scenes were fun and okay, but some of the stunts were too goofy for me. Honestly, I think I would have rather seen a documentary about these childhood friends, so I could have gotten a better feel for what type of individuals they were to each other. What can I say when I tell you I thought one of the best parts of this film was the way they did the ending credits. Maybe you will have a better time with this film; I did not get it.